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05.03.15 Abiding in Christ John 15:1-8 Sermon Summary

by on May 4, 2015

Jesus says we have to remain in him like a branch abides in a vine. Isn’t that impossible? Just when did branches get to decide of which vine they are a part?

  • Link to video shown during children’s message (
  • How metaphor moves us beyond the impossible
  • Why confessing Jesus can’t be all there is to abiding
  • Three practices from the Ethiopian on abiding: worship, listening, and baptism
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

Jesus isn’t alone in suggesting that branches have a choice about the vine they’re a part of. Paul uses the same metaphor in Romans 11. The only way around this unreasonable assertion is to remember the nature of metaphor, that is, drawing a picture, creating an impression. One point of this metaphor is choice.

What does it mean to abide? First John 4:15 says those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God abide in God. By subsequent editions of today’s other lectionary reading, this confession of faith was required for baptism (see verse 37 which is not original). But does such a confession of faith qualify as abiding, the kind of fruit-bearing abiding Jesus describes in John 15?

The Acts passage describes the encounter between an Ethiopian eunuch and the evangelist Philip. It suggests three practices that may help us abide in Christ.

First, to abide in Christ begins by showing some interest. The Ethiopian was on his way home from worshiping in Jerusalem. Abiding is a behavior; it is a choice we make. Jesus and 1 John relate it to love of God. I’m relatively free to live wherever I want. I chose to abide where I want to, and that’s based on loving where I live.

Just so, the Ethiopian traveled to Jerusalem to worship. Worship is a choice; it is a commitment, an act of devotion, a choosing out of love. We don’t worship for the payoff: “What can I get out of it?” Instead we should ask, “What am I giving in to it?” The irony is, the more you give yourself to it, the more you get out of it.

Think of the Ethiopian’s sacrifice. He made the long journey to Jerusalem. Being a non-Jew and a eunuch, he wouldn’t even be allowed to experience the most exclusive worship Jerusalem had to offer. He was a high-ranking finance officer so we know he had responsibilities and was busy. The choice to worship showed his desire to abide. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Note that it is branches plural. Those who choose to abide worship together.

Second, the Ethiopian listened to others. He first listened to the testimonies of the past, contained in Holy Scripture. He was reading the prophet Isaiah. But then Philip showed up, and the Ethiopian invited him into his chariot in order to listen to him. God sends “Philips” to all of us. My favorite Philips are theologians. Philips show up in Sunday school classes and small groups and devotionals and songs.

Ultimately the Ethiopian listened to Christ. Acts tells us that, “beginning with this very passage, Philip told him the good news about Jesus.” Always when we read the Bible and listen to Philips, the question we should ask is, “How do these testimonies help me know the God in Christ better?” The Bible is prophecy not in the sense of predicting the future, but of revealing the truth. For Christians, God’s truth is most fully revealed in Christ. So we read the Bible towards understanding that truth better.

This is what the encounter between the Ethiopian and Philip shows us. The Ethiopian listened, was teachable, and welcomed Philip. Jesus said, “If you abide me, and my words abide in you, you will bear much fruit.” Abiding occurs when we listen.

A third way of abiding in Christ is to remember your baptism. Clearly Philip’s sharing the “good news about Jesus” included the call to baptism. Otherwise why would the Ethiopian request baptism at the first sign of water? He knew it was required. One of the teachings of baptism is that it engrafts us into the vine of Christ’s Body.

After he baptizes the Ethiopian, Philip disappears. But the Ethiopian is not left alone because in his baptism he has God’s Spirit and is one with the communion of saints. Jesus invites us to, “Abide in me, as I abide in you.” Baptism symbolizes this abiding, and remembering our baptism helps us to remain.

Jesus wants us to bear fruit, and says that is accomplished by abiding in him. Three practices—worship, listening, and baptism—help us to abide and will lead to the fruit that God hopes to see in our lives as a result.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • In what other ways does recognizing metaphors for what they are help you past some of the difficult to understand passages of scripture? For example, what about the gathering of the branches for the fire in John 15?
  • What do you think about the assertion that confessing Jesus as the Son of God is not sufficient evidence for one’s abiding in Christ?
  • Do you consider worship an act of love? Or is it more an obligation? Or a learning opportunity? Which question do you ask yourself—what you’re getting out of worship, or what you’re giving into it?
  • Where are some of the places you listen as a practice of abiding? What are your favorite Bible passages? Who are your favorite writers? Do you read all of scripture with an eye towards Christ?
  • How often do you contemplate the various meanings of your baptism? Do you consider baptism a one-and-done event, or an ongoing claim and calling on your life?
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